The American Heritage Dictionary offers a few thoughts about the meaning of the word “free.” They seem appropriate for the Fourth of July.
What does it mean to be a land of the “free”? Linguistically, the word free follows a fairly simple path. Our adjective free comes from the Old English frēo. Frēo is closely related to the Old English verb frēon, which meant “to love, like, honor, set free (from slavery or confinement).” This brings new light to the aphorism, “If you love someone, set them free.” In fact, the linguistic connection between freeing and loving lives on in the word friend, a cognate of our word free.
The dictionary adds that the word “free” shares a common root with the word “friend.” Perhaps this means that, as opposed to blood ties, we choose our friends freely and can sustain or dissolve our friendships freely.
Friend and free share ancestry with the Old English frēon, the present participle of which is frēond. Frēond is the source of our word friend.Further links between the concept of friend and the concept of love can be easily spotted between the Latin amīcus, “friend,” and amō, “I love,” as What well as between the Greek philos, “friend,” and phileō, “I love.